AS the Roman Abramovich era draws to a close, Thomas Tuchel complained Chelsea lacked Liverpool’s squad depth.
It was an incredible comment from the most recent beneficiary of the billions of Vladimir Putin’s crony — but it wasn’t inaccurate.
Chelsea boss Thomas Tuchel believes the Blues’ squad depth is inferior to Liverpool’s – but Jurgen Klopp has built an incredible side without spending as much as othersCredit: EPA
After the ineffective £97.5million Chelsea striker Romelu Lukaku was withdrawn, Tuchel employed Ruben Loftus-Cheek as an emergency centre-forward.
Yes, Tuchel suffered injuries to Kai Havertz and Timo Werner in the build-up.
But it is still remarkable Liverpool’s nine-man bench looked stronger than Chelsea’s. Jurgen Klopp’s sub options are usually more experienced and diverse than Manchester City’s, too.
Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, a 28- year-old, three-time FA Cup winner with 35 England caps, didn’t even make the matchday squad of 20.
Tuchel had just seen Liverpool’s reserve left-back Kostas Tsimikas slot home the winning penalty which clinched the first FA Cup in 16 years for the Reds.
And Tsimikas, who was excellent in last Tuesday’s win at Aston Villa and is pressing Andy Robertson hard for a place in Klopp’s best XI, has been a fine addition for a modest £11.75m.
To head into the final fortnight of the season, still capable of winning the Quadruple, would be astonishing even for a team who were the wealthiest in their nation.
Yet Liverpool’s net transfer spend under Klopp — around £30m a year — is dwarfed by both Manchester clubs and is also less than that of Everton, Aston Villa, Arsenal and Tottenham.
While football’s opaque transfer system means such figures can vary, Klopp’s Kop spend a similar amount each year to West Ham, Wolves and Brighton.
If there had been one criticism of Klopp before this season, it would have been his lack of success in domestic knockout competitions — and often his dismissive attitude towards them.
But his perceived ‘disrespect’ for the cups was only voiced because Liverpool didn’t lift either trophy in the previous six seasons.
Look at the starting line-up for the defeat of Leicester in the Carabao Cup quarter-finals, for example, and only Jordan Henderson would be in Klopp’s strongest side.
Yet the Reds won, thanks to some shootout heroics from back-up keeper Caoimhin Kelleher.
In the FA Cup quarter-final at Nottingham Forest, Klopp started with Tsimikas, Joe Gomez, Oxlade-Chamberlain and Harvey Elliott, as well as Roberto Firmino — the one-time mainstay as a deep-lying centre-forward — who has become peripheral.
Klopp’s squad building, and his rotation of resources, has been exceptional.
Now the longest-serving manager in the top flight, Klopp trusts every man in his squad.
Like Sir Alex Ferguson — the only other manager to win the Champions League, Premier League, FA Cup and League Cup with the same club — he constantly improves from a position of strength.
Since the title win of 2020, Liverpool have brought in Jota, Thiago Alcantara, Ibrahima Konate, Luis Diaz and Tsimikas. All played important roles in Saturday’s Cup triumph.
None cost anywhere near as much as Lukaku.
Of course, all praise of Klopp’s team is currently tinged with the bizarre idea that the entire country is cheering them on.
This is a spectacular misreading of the national mood from Tuchel and Pep Guardiola.
If we’re all Liverpool supporters now, then I’m sure you’d have been jeering and whistling the gospel choir singing the traditional Cup Final hymn ‘Abide With Me’ before kick-off.
The crowing banner ‘Imagine Being Us’ is read by most of us with an entirely different tone to that with which it was written.
TUCH AND GO
In reality, few who do not actively support the ‘This Means More’ brigade are revelling in their outstanding campaign.
But we are going to have to get used to it. Klopp has signed up for another four seasons and Liverpool aren’t going away.
A club whose recruitment system was derided under Klopp’s predecessor Brendan Rodgers — and disliked by Rodgers himself — has thrived since the German arrived in 2015.
Klopp has already started next season’s rebuild by agreeing to sign the gifted Fulham attacking midfielder Fabio Carvalho, who, at 19, already looks capable of playing regularly for Liverpool.
And we’re yet to witness the full ability of Elliott, the last kid Liverpool poached for a minimal compensation fee from Craven Cottage.
Some, including supersub striker Divock Origi, will leave Anfield this summer.
But like so many Liverpool fringe players, the big Belgian has frequently stepped up at crucial moments for them. Usually in Merseyside derbies.
So as Chelsea pass into American ownership, Tuchel can only hope that Todd Boehly runs the club similarly to Liverpool’s Fenway Sports Group.
Because the gap between the Reds, second in the Premier League, and Chelsea, in third, is 16 points.
And like Tuchel’s complaint about squad depth, that is not an inaccurate reflection of where these two clubs are currently at.
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